Provincial Engineering & Geoscience Week


A Salute to Professional Engineers & Geoscientists

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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2020 5 MARCH 1–7, 2020 PROVINCIAL ENGINEERING & GEOSCIENCE WEEK SPECIAL SECTION By Geoff Kirbyson There are few professions where Indigenous people are as lowly represented as engineering, but Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba is out to change that. N icole Everett, who is Ojibway, a Berens River First Nation band member and the Association's In- digenous Professionals Initiative Coordinator, has an action plan to boost out- reach and engagement, including supporting educational programs for youth and develop- ing various partnerships, to increase Indigen- ous membership. Diversity representation is important in the engineering field for a number of reasons, including being able to maintain connections to communities, to serve, build and strengthen equitable partnerships, and to value Indigenous world views and incorporate that perspective into a wide variety of work. Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba is also out to identify hurdles faced by Indigenous people to becoming an engineer or geoscientist. A combination of factors are to blame for the present reality that they make up just up a tiny fraction of engineers in the province, Everett says. There are nearly 9,000 engineers in Manitoba and one per cent of them have identified as First Nations, Inuit or Métis. Manitoba's indigenous population is 18 per cent overall. "We're supporting them to deal with barriers and trying to support young people who want to get an education in engineering and geoscience," she said, adding she's hoping to connect with an elder to guide their work, including curriculum development and First Nations teaching. One significant challenge for the Association is there are some systemic issues in play that impact all Indigenous people, such as requisites offered or not on remote reserves, as well as cultural and language barriers. A lack of access to credit reports makes it more difficult to get mortgage applications approved by financial institutions, making safe and affordable housing elusive. Getting good childcare can be an impediment, too, she said. Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba hasn't officially set a goal, but considering 18 per cent of the Manitoba population is Indigenous, there's a long road ahead until they're even remotely close to being representative "It's going to take work. It won't happen in the next couple of months or years. We need to do a lot to reduce bias in the industry and make changes in society. I find people need a little bit of knowledge on cultural practices," she said. As poorly as Indigenous people are represented as a whole in the engineering field, it's also bad for women, she said. Everett is in the process of undertaking an "environmental scan" with Indigenous engineers in Winnipeg who haven't registered with the Association, those who have left the province for other opportunities, and students enrolled at the University of Manitoba, to get a handle on the job market to see what barriers need to be broken down. The importance of having role models for young people can't be understated, so Everett wants to highlight a number of high- profile Indigenous professionals. Included is Linda Murphy, P.Geo., a member of the Hollow Water First Nation on the east side of Lake Winnipeg and the senior manager of community relations at Yamana Gold, a Toronto-based gold producer, and Randy Herrmann, P.Eng., director at the Engineering Access Program (ENGAP) at the U of M. "Young people have to be able to see themselves in the industry. We hope to develop a role model campaign on social media to highlight the work of prominent people working in the industry who are making a difference," she said. Watch ours at EVERY ENGINEER HAS A STORY. Diversifying the professions By Geoff Kirbyson When Niloofar Firoozy was an undergrad student at the University of Tehran seven years ago, she never dreamed her future job would require donning a life jacket and waders to gather water samples on the Whitemud River. 'W e had to get surface water samples from the middle of the river," says the 29-year-old engineer-in- training at Stantec Inc. "The field work is very cool. You get to see what's happening in nature." Entering a field that has been traditionally male- dominated never fazed Firoozy. She's the fourth of four children in her family and grew up with three older brothers. "My mom suggested that I would be better off to go into architecture or design," she said, "but I like math, and I wanted to be outside more and be involved in field work." Her brother, Nariman, in fact, paved her way to come to Winnipeg by moving here to complete his PhD in 2012, later working for the Department of National Defence. Firoozy decided to follow him to Winnipeg in 2013. "I said to him, 'it's very cold in Winnipeg.' He said, 'well, it's cold everywhere in Canada,'" she recalled. Firoozy completed her undergraduate degree in civil engineering in Iran before taking a master's degree in groundwater engineering at the University of Manitoba, which she finished in 2017. She has been at Stantec for three years and she has worked on countless projects from all over the world, including with clients from Peru, Finland and across North America. "It has been very interesting for me. The faith my project manager has had in me has been very nice. He totally trusted me. He explained the basics to me and checked my work afterwards," she said. "I started to learn a lot more. Now I'm at the level where I can actually teach something to my co- workers when they want to work on parts of my projects." Her longer-term plan, once she has gained sufficient experience, is to do less of the technical work and become a project manager. The discipline she has learned through her engineering training at Stantec has also helped her in day-to-day life. "As engineers, we need to think, 'what is the best route, what is the best planning?' There is always something happening, and you have to make a decision right away. That has helped me in my regular life. I should always think about everything and consider different aspects of the situation so I can make the best decision," she said. Firoozy is also an active member of the Stantec community. She sits on the company's inclusion and diversity committee, which meets monthly to discuss ways it can promote cultural awareness to all its employees. Upcoming events include a panel for International Women's Day as well as activities to simulate the experience of living with a disability, including navigating the office in a wheelchair and wearing a blindfold while trying to recognize different coins in your pocket. She's also a member of Stantec's team in the annual dragon boat races, which raise money for cancer research. "I lost my dad to pancreatic cancer in 2016. It was a big loss and he can't be replaced. I would like to help as much as possible (to find a cure). With this, I can be involved in the community for a good cause and do it with my colleagues," she said. In her spare time, Firoozy is a triathlete, squeezing in two training sessions a day, either a swim and a bike ride or a swim and a run. She competes regularly and her next race is coming up in the spring. Firoozy's long-term plans revolve around continuing her work as an engineer in Winnipeg. "Canada is beautiful. It has a lot to offer, it has great people and very good opportunities," she said. From Tehran to the Canadian Prairies " As engineers, we need to think, 'what is the best route, what is the best planning?' There is always something happening, and you have to make a decision right away." — Niloofar Firoozy PHOTOS BY JASON HALSTEAD

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